Seaweed ‘could survive nuclear war, avert famine’

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[MANILA]Imagine a catastrophic occurrence that blocked the sun out, such as an eruption of a huge volcano or even a war.

An international team of researchers say resilient food sources are needed to save humanity from starvation in the case of such an event – and that seaweed could be the solution.

Seaweed, which is rich in nutrients, provides livelihoods to coastal populations in many countries with lower incomes.

“Investing in the construction of seaweed farms could prevent global famine in abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios, potentially averting a significant number of deaths from starvation,” David Denkenberger is an associate professor of mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury in the UK.

“Investing in the construction of seaweed farms could prevent global famine in abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios, potentially averting a significant number of deaths from starvation.”

David Denkenberger is an associate professor of mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury

The journal published research that is of interest to the public. Earth’s FutureThe study found that seaweed can be a valuable commodity and can be used to provide food or fuel in times of crisis.

Researchers from the Alliance to Feed the Earth In Disasters, Louisiana State University (USA), University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute(UP-MSI) and the University of Canterbury say that it is resilient enough to thrive and survive in tropical oceans after a full blown nuclear war.

The researchers built a model using seaweed Gracilaria tikvahiaeAlso known as graceful redweed. Using available nuclear winter climate data, they simulated the seaweed’s growth after an adverse global event.

Nuclear Winter

According to the authors if a nuclear war broke out, and thousands of nuclear warheads were traded between nuclear powers, 150 Teragrams (Tg) worth of soot could be ejected in the atmosphere, blocking sunlight for years.

Even with black carbon in our atmosphere, seaweeds can still grow and photosynthesise.

Michael Roleda, professor and co-author at UP-MSI, said SciDev.Net: “Some seaweed species’ light requirement to saturate photosynthesis could be as low as 50-100 µmol photons.”

He said that sunlight in the tropics during the noon time of a cloudless day can reach almost 2,000 µmol photons.

According to a study, with optimal production and preparation areas, seaweed could satisfy 45 per cent of the global food demand in just nine months.

The researchers noted that due to the high iodine levels in seaweed, only 15 per cent of a human’s diet could be supplied by it.

They said that seaweed, aside from a full-blown nuclear war scenario, could be a viable option for global food security, as well as smaller nuclear exchanges or volcanic eruptions.

Nutritional value

Seaweeds can be used in salads and as dried food wraps. They are high in minerals, vitamins, essential amino acid, and fatty acids.

Roleda replied that the seaweeds would absorb contaminants naturally from the environment but that the toxic substances confined and concentrated in them could be reduced to levels safe for consumption.

“For example, post-harvest processing and pre-consumption preparation, like washing and drying, enzymatic reaction, and blanching or cooking, among others, have been found to significantly reduce iodine and heavy metals concentration in seaweeds,” he said.

Many families in coastal communities of lower-income countries rely on seaweed production to survive.

The organism can grow faster than other agricultural crops because it is protected under water.

According to a Food and Agriculture Organization reportIn 2021, Asia will produce 97 percent of the global production of 34.7 million tonnes of cultivated seaweed. In addition to being consumed as food it is also used for animal feed additives and cosmetics.

China currently produces more than 50 per cent of the world’s supply, followed by Indonesia. South Korea and Philippines are other notable producers.

Another recent study, on the other hand, presents a different perspective of the impact of a global nuclear war, and the dire implications for all life, including the decimation in marine life.

The authors predicted that nuclear wars between the US and Russia, and India and Pakistan would result in global cooling and sea ice expansion into coastal communities.

The ocean recovery, according to that study, would be very slow — decades at the surface and hundreds of years at depth, with thousands of years in cooler waters such as the Arctic. The study said that the first impact of a nuclear conflict would cause a major disruption to marine ecosystems, but the new ocean state would worsen the situation. This would have ramifications for the global ecosystem.

Ravi Rebbapragada is the chairperson of Mines, Minerals & PEOPLEA new alliance of environmentalists in India has stressed that nuclear war should be avoided no matter what the findings.

“On a fundamental point, a nuclear war is not only dangerous but it will have a long-lasting effect on the global climate to a point of no return,” he said.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.



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